A modular CDF approach for the approximation of percentiles
This article describes a method for computing approximate statistics for large data sets, when exact computations may not be feasible. Such situations arise in applications such as climatology, data mining, and information retrieval (search engines). The key to our approach is a modular approximation to the cumulative distribution function (cdf) of the data. Approximate percentiles (as well as many other statistics) can be computed from this approximate cdf. This enables the reduction of a potentially overwhelming computational exercise into smaller, manageable modules. We illustrate the properties of this algorithm using a simulated data set. We also examine the approximation characteristics of the approximate percentiles, using a von Mises functional type approach. In particular, it is shown that the maximum error between the approximate cdf and the actual cdf of the data is never more than 1% (or any other preset level). We also show that under assumptions of underlying smoothness of the cdf, the approximation error is much lower in an expected sense. Finally, we derive bounds for the approximation error of the percentiles themselves. Simulation experiments show that these bounds can be quite tight in certain circumstances.
Choudhury, KR; Tabirca, S
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